Saturday, 11 August 2012

Soap - To Package or not?

Every now and then I get asked why do I package my soap at all.

This was one thing I tossed up when I first set up my business. Legally all cosmetics have to to have the ingredients available at point of sale. 

One of the things I always wanted was to have the ingredients listed fully for allergy sufferers, to be able to check if they were given my soap as a gift. This meant I needed to attach the ingredients to the soap somehow. So for me totally naked soap wasn't an option for this reason alone.

Simple cigar bands made out of paper or light cardboard are the easiest way to do this. I initially trialled cigar bands when I started selling soap. But apart from the fact that as soap continued to cure and shrink a little the bands would become loose and fall off - very annoying. This option also offered little in the way of protecting the soap from the environment.

Simple protective packaging cellophane bags
 with paper labels
I'm now using genuine cellophane bags (not the "cello" polypropylene bags that are often sold) to enclose the soap in. This packaging protects the soap from the environment extending its life. This packaging is produced from cellulose so is from renewable sources. It's totally biodegradable. It is allows water vapour to move through it preventing soap sweating. But cellophane excludes the passage of oxygen into the soap preventing oxidation and degradation of the soap over time. The scents also don't pass through the packaging well either so the soap retains its scent much longer.

How can packaging protect the soap?

1. The correct packaging helps retain the scent in the soap a lot longer. Essential oils and other fragrances are comprised of volatile chemicals (natural or otherwise depending on what is used to scent your soap). You can smell them as the chemicals are gradually evaporating from the soap. I found that the packaging I'm using now means the soap retains it's scent about 3 times as long as unpackaged soap. The downside is that it's harder to smell what the soaps scent is like through the packaging

2. Oxidation.
Soap is made from fats and oils and like these may eventually oxidise or go rancid. This may take weeks or many, many years depending on a large number of variables.

These variables includes which are oils used in manufacturing the soap. Those that have a short shelf life in the kitchen have a shorter shelf life in the soap too. I've avoided short shelf life oils in my soap for this reason.

Some additives or contaminants can increase the problem, iron and some colorants may do this. Choosing the colours carefully and using distilled or rainwater (my choice) instead of town water is useful.

Added antioxidants can help prevent oxidation the most common additive in commercial soap is the chelator ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA). This works well but has some potential environmental issues to to its stability in the environment. I don't use EDTA or any other added antioxidants preferring to avoid oxidation other ways .

How dry the atmosphere is. Free moisture sitting on the surface of the soap in warm humid spots will promote oxidation. I'm talking about stored soap not soap in use, where there is a fresh layer of soap being constantly produced. Packaging that soap can sweat in accelerates the problem.

Light can accelerate the process.

BUT the one thing that absolutely must be present for oxidation to take place is oxygen. So packaging that excludes this is ideal.

3. Colorants fading.
Whether or not to use light excluding packaging is an interesting one. I'm not as I like to be able to display the swirls and colours of the soap I produce. But it does mean that eventually some of the colours I use may fade if exposed to bright light. Indigo, annatto and paprika extracts will do this.

4. Personal hygiene.
True soap is actually a very, very poor medium for bacteria to grow on. However having soap packaged means that if it is being handled in a retail environment that it's not ending up covered in grime and viruses that might otherwise be deposited there.

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